The struggles of Brazilians studying abroad

and . Dec 08, 2019
University of Chicago brazilian University of Chicago campus. Photo: E.Q. Roy/Shutterstock

Gabriel Araújo had given up hope of attending college abroad. It was late May 2017, and while most of his peers had made it into top American universities with full scholarships, Gabriel was rejected from eight of the ten institutions he applied to. But when the admissions officer for the University of Bridgeport called him on Skype to announce he would be one of the three Global Leaders Scholars for 2017—the university’s most prestigious merit-based scholarship—the Brazilian student was left speechless.

Gabriel’s first reaction was to share the news with his mother. The low-income student from Brazil’s third-poorest state of Alagoas would be the first in his family to attend college abroad.

</p> <p>But he was unsure whether his dream of studying in the U.S. would come true until the very last minute. Gabriel only received his financial aid package a few weeks before classes started. While the scholarship covered all costs bar health insurance and housing fees, Gabriel’s family, whose monthly income was around USD 250, could not afford the additional USD 3,600. To study abroad, he would have to take several on-campus jobs. So he did.<div class="rcp_restricted faltam0"><div class="paywall plano"></div> <div class="readmore-cta-block"> <p><strong>Read the full story NOW!</strong></p> <div class="readmore-cta-grid"> <div class="readmore-cta-full"> <a href="/product/free-trial/" class="button2 button-green button-full">Start your 7-day free trial</a> </div> <div class="readmore-cta-half"> <a class="button2 black-text button-full" href="/login/?redirect_to=">Login</a> </div> <div class="readmore-cta-half"> <a class="button2 black-text button-full" href="/services-offers-brazil/">Subscribe</a> </div> </div> </div> </div></p> <p>Gabriel was one of over<a href=""> 14,600 Brazilians</a> who began their studies in the U.S. in 2017, a number that has increased by a further 9.8 percent in 2018, according to the Institute of International Education Open Doors Report. Despite still recovering from<a href=""> its worst recession</a> ever, with the Brazilian Real hitting all-time nominal lows in November, Brazil saw the second-largest increase in international students in the U.S. in 2018. It now sends the ninth-most students worldwide, and is the leader in Latin America.</p> <p>Funding for international students in the U.S. is limited, which leads most Brazilian students abroad financing their own education. Yet, for low-income Brazilians like Gabriel, getting one of the few scholarships available for foreign students can serve as a tool for social mobility.</p> <p>To get into American universities with scholarships, many low-income Brazilian students rely on free community-based preparatory programs. Initiatives such as EducationUSA’s Opportunity Funds and Fundação Estudar’s Prep Estudar Fora—which together have prepared more than 600 students over the past decade—are designed to offer online ACT and English classes, help with essay writing and cover test and translation fees, as well as travel expenses for students who live outside of major urban centers.</p> <p>Gabriel said he could only apply to American universities because he participated in Opportunity Funds, which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State by way of EducationUSA. Despite being present in over <a href="">50 countries</a>, the program is particularly important in Brazil, where EducationUSA has its largest in-country network of <a href="">over 40 offices</a>. Opportunity Funds National Coordinator Simone Ferreira said it “lapidates already brilliant students,” offering low-income students who have the potential to study abroad the means to do so.</p> <p>“These are students who come from public schools and often learned English by themselves,” said Ms. Ferreira. “They know little to nothing about the application process, but they have an eagerness, a proactiveness that you don’t find everywhere.”</p> <p>Though key to the application process, Ms. Ferreira said that once students get into college, there is not much EducationUSA can do for them on an institutional level. The program concludes by paying for students’ visa fees and giving them a USD 1,000 stipend to help with the moving process.</p> <p>“I have kept in touch with most of my students,” Ms. Ferreira said. “I have gotten emotional many times. I have cried and I have smiled with them. But after the program is over, there is not much I can do besides listening to their struggles and giving them emotional support.”</p> <h2>Brazilian students share a common experience</h2> <p>After being rejected from Opportunity Funds, Giácomo Rabaiolli nearly gave up on studying abroad. His family was paying for his English classes but they could not afford additional application costs. Originally from Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, Rabaiolli had to travel 200 kilometers at least three times in 2017 to take required application tests. His path to college began after he got into two preparatory programs: Prep Estudar Fora and BRASA Pré. Giácomo said the financial and academic help he received from both programs allowed him to receive the University of Chicago Odyssey Scholarship, a full scholarship that also matches students with paid internship positions and offers them laptops and winter gear.</p> <p>“We have international, academic and career advisers ready to help from day one,” Giácomo, a sophomore at the University of Chicago, said in Portuguese. “I realized there are many resources available for students like me, and I have used many, from writing tutors to career advancement services. I think sometimes the problem lies in the students’ lack of proactiveness.”</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="Giácomo Rabaiolli" class="wp-image-28722" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Giácomo Rabaiolli</figcaption></figure> <p>The sophomore said that some American universities are better prepared to receive the growing number of low-income Brazilian students. Though he does not face the same challenges as his counterpart Gabriel, he thinks there is still a lot that needs to be done to properly support those students.</p> <p>“There are small initiatives that are key and that could easily be implemented,” he said. “During International Student Orientation, they teach us how to ride the train and open a bank account. Later, they help us fill out taxes. Those are basic things, but that can be really complicated when you have never done them before.”</p> <h2>Continuous struggle for improvement</h2> <p>Pointing at the Joe and Rika Mansueto Library in the heart of the University of Chicago, Simon Nascimento said that “a lot has changed, except the weather&#8221; since he joined the university as an undergraduate in 2006. Once a low-income student from Goiás in central Brazil, Mr. Nascimento applied to the University of Chicago through the Opportunity Funds pilot program, previously called United States Student Achievers.</p> <p>As a student, Nascimento was involved with outreach initiatives on campus, including the design and implementation of the International Pre-Orientation, the program responsible for facilitating international students’ transition into college. Those experiences persuaded him to take a position at the Office of College Admissions upon graduation. Now the Director of International Admissions, Mr. Nascimento said initiatives to support low-income international students are the result of a long process.</p> <p>“People often ask me, ‘What didn’t you like as an international student here?’ Everything I didn’t like the university has fixed,” Mr. Nascimento said. “There wasn’t an enrichment services office, which was odd, considering the number of first-generation, low-income students was always growing. Now we have three or four of those offices. So we have been spotting weaknesses and changing what needs to be changed.”</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="683" src="" alt="Simon Nascimento" class="wp-image-28723" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 2048w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Simon Nascimento</figcaption></figure> <h2>Things that must change</h2> <p>Maria Rodrigues was accepted into Stanford University—her dream school—in December 2016 with a full scholarship. She planned to work on campus in order to make extra money, but because of her scholarship, Maria never thought she would struggle financially. Now a junior, she struggles to afford tickets back to her hometown of Rio de Janeiro, and even to buy her groceries. She said that while universities might be prepared to receive low-income and international students, resources for those who lie at the intersection of both groups are still lacking.</p> <p>“Because I am low-income and come from a humble family, I don’t have many people I can ask for help regarding bureaucratic issues,” Maria said. “This is something I had to learn to deal with by myself and with very little help from departments at the university. It’s stressful to think about visa status, taxes, driver’s licenses and other things that consume time while having to worry about taking 20 credits and working 20 hours every week. Add that to the fact that I’d never left Brazil or spoken English 24/7, and coming to the U.S. itself becomes a big challenge.”</p> <p>Gabriel Araújo, now a junior, spends most of his afternoons parking cars in the two snowy parking lots of the University of Bridgeport’s Health Center, one of his two on-campus jobs. Because international students cannot work more than 20 hours a week, Araújo spent his first summer break on campus to make extra money. Despite working to pay for remaining tuition costs, he said he has not earned enough to visit his family in Brazil.</p> <p>“Even though I work a lot and make more money than I would ever make in Brazil, most of it goes straight to the university,” he said. “So sometimes I struggle because I don’t have any extra money left. But I know it’s going to pay off in the future. So I carry on.”

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Augusta Saraiva

Augusta is a Brazilian journalism student at Northwestern University

Carly Menker

Carly Menker is a third-year journalism student at Northwestern University in Chicago.

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